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South Mississippi Living 4/07

Saturday, November 10, 2007

County tells developer to stop tearing up wetlands

Oct. 03, 2007

HANCOCK COUNTY -- County officials are issuing a cease and desist order against a development project below Interstate 10 where they say wetlands are being torn apart by unpermitted work that has included digging canals, constructing levees and installing unauthorized water and sewer hookups.

Hancock supervisors decided to stop work on part of the Stennis Technology Park, stretching south of I-10 nearly to Bayou LaCroix on the western side of Highway 603. Another part of the project on the eastern side of 603 also will be stopped by Bay St. Louis, city officials said. That land is located in the newly annexed area of the city.

"It's just mass confusion," City Attorney Donald Rafferty said of the work, which apparently includes large parts of nearly 700 acres. The Stennis Technology Park project has been planned for several years, but officials say no permits have ever been taken out with the county or city and no site plan review has been approved.

A project representative was verbally directed to stop the work late Monday afternoon, officials said. Still, bulldozers were roaring and work continued on the property when the Sun Herald visited the site Tuesday morning.

County paperwork on a formal cease and desist order is now in the works, and Rafferty said Bay St. Louis will follow suit.

The developers also own a large parcel to the north of I-10 and west of 603 where an office building already has been built. That work was legally completed with the proper permits, County Supervisor Rocky Pullman said Tuesday.

Supervisors decided Monday to stop the work after Chrissy Schuengel, who lives just south of the project on Bayou LaCroix Road, filed a complaint with the board. County Engineer Geoffrey Clemmons also filed a report recommending a work stoppage.

"It looks like a lot of wetlands - not just wetlands by the textbook definition, but sensitive wetlands," Clemmons said.

Stennis Technology Park Inc. and a sister company, Hancock County Land LLC, are registered in Mississippi as out-of-state companies headquartered in Mobile. In 2006, Hancock County Land was granted variances to change the zoning on the property to planned unit development.

The Mississippi Secretary of State's Office lists Mobile businessman Rodney A. Pilot as president of Stennis Technology Park. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Schuengel's father, Lawrence Lang, who lives on Bayou LaCroix Road adjacent to the project, watched bulldozers working on Stennis Technology Park on Tuesday. He said his 50-acre parcel already is flooding at the slightest rainfall because of the landscape alterations.

"I just broke out in fear when I came back here and saw what they were doing," he said. "I'm simply dumbfounded how something like this can happen."

County officials appeared to be equally surprised. "They've dug canals as big as those in Shoreline Park," said Supervisor Steve Seymour, whose District 2 includes the development.

"We need to stop the whole mess from happening right now," County Attorney Ronnie Artigues said.

Pullman said the county also will ask that the state Department of Environmental Quality and the Army Corps of Engineers investigate the work to determine any damage to the environment. He and others said it is surprising that such extensive, unauthorized work has proceeded just off a main county thoroughfare.

"At the end of the day, somebody's going to come forward," he said. "And when they do, they're caught."

© 2007 Sun Herald. All Rights Reserved.

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